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  • Focus Health Physio

DOMS: Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness

DOMS is the pain and stiffness felt in muscles several hours or days after unaccustomed or strenuous exercise. The soreness is usually felt most strongly one to three days after the physical activity. The cause is thought to be by lengthening of the muscle under load, e.g. the quadriceps (thigh muscles) when running down hill. This type of contraction causes low level damage (microtrauma) to the muscle fibres, resulting in a dull ache when the muscle is under load and not at rest.

Past theories have suggested that the soreness is due to lactic acid build-up but this has now been rejected as lactic acid levels return to normal within one hour of exercising, so cannot cause the delayed pain.

DOMS can be prevented by gradually increasing the intensity of a new exercise programme. An increase of 10% of either the time, distance or load of an activity is a good rule for a gradual and painless increase.

Static stretching or warming up the muscle before or after exercise doesn’t prevent DOMS but stretching is still important to improve muscle flexibility. Graduated compression garments/tights worn during and after the workout can reduce muscle oscillation and some of the microtears that cause DOMS.

Treatment can include low intensity activity, massage and heat. Soreness usually disappears within three days. As muscles adapt to workout loading, each subsequent workout should result

in less muscle soreness.

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